Around 3,000 extras took part in the filming of Himala, the 1982 Ishmael Bernal masterpiece shot in Paoay. Considering its limited budget, it was a miracle of sorts putting together what is now largely considered, both by critics and the viewing public, as the best film ever produced in the Asia Pacific. Last Saturday, May 10, the miracle happened anew, with a crowd ten times bigger witnessing the immortalization of the film’s iconic character, Elsa.
The unveiling of a fiberglass statue depicting Elsa was the highlight of this year’s Himala sa Buhangin, an offbeat outdoor arts and music festival staged in the Paoay Sand Dunes. Actress Nora Aunor, who played the lead role, graced the event to the delight of an estimated 25,000 revelers, including hundreds of die-hard Noranians from other parts of the country.
Created by visual artist Gerry Leonardo, the fiberglass sculpture depicts Elsa deep in prayer and kneeling in front of a withered tree. Erected atop one of the highest peaks in the sand dunes, the statue was unveiled with cinematic effect at around 9:00 p.m. There were bolts of lightning as music from the movie was played along with the classic line: “Walang himala! Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat! Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga himala!” As if it were a movie shooting, fans chanted, “Elsa! Elsa!”
I HAVE always believed in Paoay’s Guling-guling, which, I argue, is the only authentic festival in the region, being deeply rooted in the history and culture of the townsfolk, unlike most festivals, including Laoag’s Pamulinawen, which came out of nowhere, and which, after over a decade, very people understand, if there is anything at all to understand.
Laoag may claim that the Pamulinawen is a great festival because it has won in the Aliwan Festival, an annual competition of festivals. But note that it has won only in the Best Float Category, and such feat, which comes at great cost to Laoag’s taxpayers, does not mean the Pamulinawen is meaningful. It only means that the organizers know how to make good (and extravagant) floats. It occasionally wins as runner up in street dance, but neither does it assure us that the festival is meaningful and unique, it simply means that the dancers know how to dance well based on formulaic criteria.
I agree that festivals could help spur the development of tourism in a certain area, but we should only share to the world those which we strongly feel form part of our historical and cultural legacies. The Guling-guling of Paoay is one festival I approve of because the people have actually practiced the Guling-guling (marking their foreheads with white ashes the day before the season of Lent begins) long before they thought of formally making it a festival.